Badami once the capital of the mighty Chalukyas is situated in Bagalkot district of northern Karnataka, virtually midway between Hampi and Bijapur. It is known for its rock-cut cave temples built between the 6th and 8th centuries. Badami is where the Chalukyas moved their capital from Aihole.
Of the four main caves, three are Hindu and the fourth is of the Jain thirthankaras. A little bit of climbing is involved. The caves overlook the Agastya Lake (Agastyatheertha) and the Bhuthnath temple and the Shiva temple are visible in the distance. Bordering the lake are the twin hills named after Vatapi and Ilvala, the two demons who are believed to have created havoc in the village until the sage Agastya came along and subdued them.
In the First Cave which was built in the 6th century stands a colossal statue of Nataraja with 18 arms (I tried my best but could count only 17!). The snake and the trishul are clearly visible. Ganesh stands by his side, eating as usual. You can also spot Ardhanariswara, Harihara and Nandi.
The Second Cave, also built in the 6th century by Kirtivarman II is dedicated to Vishnu. You can see the Varaha and Vamana avatars besides celestial couples and pot-bellied dwarfs. And of course there is Vishnu on his Garuda.
The Third Cave was built by Mangalesha I, who is hailed as the father of the Chalukyan school of architecture. (He was later overthrown by Pulakesi II who became the best known ruler of the Chalukya dynasty after he defeated Harshavardhana on the banks of the Narmada in the early 7th century.) Here we see Vishnu in different forms, seated on the serpent Anantha, in the form of Varaha avatar and so on. We also see Indra, Shiva and Brahma depicted on the ceiling. The design of each pillar is unique.
In the Fourth Cave we see the Jain thirthankaras in their trademark form. At the entrance there are two dwarapalas (gatekeepers). This is the most recent of the caves of Badami but it seems archaeologists are uncertain about the actual date of creation.
The Agastyatheertha Lake is believed to have healing powers but we saw several women washing their laundry and dirty linen there. On the northern side is the Bhuthnath temple which is actually a magnificent ruin. Some semblance of puja is maintained though. Shiva in his angry form, the lord of ghosts, spirits and wandering souls – that’s Bhuthnath for you. The temple is badly in need of renovation. I wish the Hindutva brigade would come forward to take on such tasks instead of going after the cow-eaters.
The Archaeological Museum, located next to the Bhuthnath temple, was closed much to our disappointment. It is a said to have rare exhibits of Lajja-Gauri, a fertility sect that was popular in Chalukyan times.
The northern hill trek is good long walk that takes you to the Shivalaya at the top. You have to dodge the monkeys though. Believe me, it’s no mean task. They are hungry and they mean business. If they smell food in your backpack, only Shiva the destroyer can save you!
The Badami Fort is in ruins. We gave it the go by.
Solace for Solo Women: This is a safe safe safe safe trip. If you have a week to spare you can take a train from Bangalore to Hospet (the nearest railway station for Hampi), proceed to Hampi by cab, camp there for two or three days and proceed to Badami by cab. There are decent hotels in Badami, the locals are helpful and the food is passable. The caves, archaeological museum, Bhoothnath temple, and northern hill trek can be completed in a single day. A half hour cab ride will take you to Aihole and Pattadakkal which are 20 km apart and will take you several hours if you are serious about taking a closer look at the magnificent ruins. Then proceed to Bijapur where you can camp for the night, leaving the sight-seeing to be done the next day. There are night trains to Bangalore, so you don’t need to stay longer. Cabs or autos can be hired at each of these locations at affordable prices. The driver will invariably function as your guide. Remember, these are super-hot places so travel only between September and February. Book your accommodations online.